Hospitals in at least 25 states face a critical shortage of nurses, doctors and other staff amid the surging coronavirus pandemic, according to recent research from Stat News. Thanks to therapeutics and lessons from the spring, hospitals are able to save more lives.
But as the number of cases spirals, some hospitals are in crisis.
On the plains of Nebraska, Lexington Regional Health Center has just 25 hospital beds and four doctors to battle the county’s COVID-19 positivity rate of 28%.
About 1,500 miles away, in New York, Northwell Health runs 23 hospitals, with nearly 6,000 beds and 4,500 doctors.
When the coronavirus first attacked the country, New York was the epicenter, and Northwell hospitals were on the front lines.
“We saw over 85,000 COVID patients since the crisis began,” CEO Michael Dowling told CBS News senior medical correspondent Dr. Tara Narula, who also works at Northwell.
Northwell’s size and experience during disasters like September 11 offered some advantages.
“We did what was known as load balancing. We were able to use our transport network, and move patients from Queens to Westchester, to eastern Long Island,” Dowling said. “If we had not been able to do that, those hospitals in Queens would’ve been overwhelmed.”
Small hospitals like Lexington Regional in Nebraska have fewer resources. With the explosion of cases across the Midwest, larger hospitals that usually take their transfer patients are now turning them away.
“COVID has really left us in a bit of a situation,” said hospital CEO Leslie Marsh.
Marsh is struggling with a staffing gap: 46 employees have tested positive for the virus, four nurses have resigned and there’s a shortage of traveling nurses who usually fill in.
“While we have five ventilators right now, we don’t have the staff to care for five ventilated patients,” she said. “Nurses are getting burned out and leaving. They want a job that’s not so stressful.”
When it comes to PPE, like gloves, Lexington Regional only has about a two-week supply. During the spring surge, Marsh used a lifeline and got shipments from the non-profit Angel Flight Central, which serves rural hospitals in 10 states.
“And it was a lifesaver, literally a lifesaver. And I think that that we’ll probably have to reach out to them again here soon,” Marsh said.
In New York, Northwell’s 85,000-square-foot warehouse is overflowing with PPE.
“About 30 deliveries a day actually come in here from all over the globe,” Dowling said.
Northwell didn’t need to rely on the federal government’s dwindling stockpile. It uses an automated system to respond to each hospital’s needs.
That was reassuring to the Northwell staff.
“We were able to tell them, ‘We have enough supplies. We can assure you that.’ That was enormous,” Dowling said.
“When you talk to some of the staff, are any of them telling you, ‘I can’t do this again’?” Narula asked.
“I have not heard much of that at all,” Dowling said. “I haven’t had anybody come to me or talk to me and say, ‘I wouldn’t do this again.’ They recognized that they saved so many lives.”
“We all go into health care primarily because we want to make a difference, and so it is an honor and obligation and a duty and a privilege to be able to be in this building,” Marsh said.
Northwell Health estimates it has the resources to ride out a year of projected lost revenue. The reality is, states and hospitals are engaging in bidding wars against each other for PPE for medical workers. Smaller hospitals like Lexington Regional cannot compete and often lose out. The hospital told CBS News it only has 12 days of cash left on hand.